Camille's at Crystal Beach Keeps it Local
September 11, 2014 by Audrey Johnson
September on the coast transforms the chaos of summer into my happy place. Crowds get much, much thinner, there’s a festival (or two…or three) every weekend, temps are still warm enough to go for a swim, Monarch butterflies arrive, and Fall sunsets set the sky on fire with a rich coral hue.
But this September is truly special. Camille’s at Crystal Beach, one of Destin’s best kept secrets, marks their 10th year in business. The small, eclectic restaurant is nestled in a cozy loft above Beachside Inn in Crystal Beach. “Some people have lived right around the corner for 15 years and stumble on us,” said manager Chris Knight. That’s because Camille’s doesn’t advertise- all of their customers are by word of mouth.
Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential warned restaurant patrons not to order the specials, or hollandaise for that matter, because they’re all made from excess amounts of shall we say, less than fresh food.
Well, Camille’s don’t play that. They were doing farm+sea to table before it was a thing. They get their fish fresh out of the Gulf a la Harbor Docks, and they source local produce from Red Bay Grocery, where every citizen in town seems to own a share in the co-op.
“You walk into Red Bay Grocery and say “Who owns this place?” and every single person will raise their hand,” Chris half-way joked. “Some of the local farmers will have mushrooms or cucumbers and I’ll take them and use them to make our specials.”
The TLC is apparent at the sushi bar, where Sushi Chef Mischa Pawlik, a German-Italian with a Russian name, has mastered the Japanese art form. The Backdown Roll, with cream cheese, tempura batter, shrimp, cucumber, and spicy sauce, topped with tuna, avocado, and krab salad, is a thing of beauty. It’s so good that I ate it while I was pregnant on my birthday. And I didn’t even freak out about mercury poisoning.
On Monday nights, locals and a sprinkle of tourists pack the sushi bar to get a taste of what is arguably the best sushi in town. They spend the night ordering rolls off the $6 sushi menu and sipping on $2.50 domestic beers and $4 Crown and downs. Ladies Night goes down every Wednesday and Camille’s knocks $2 off sushi for everyone, while ladies get half-priced drinks.
Besides sushi, Camille’s dinner menu offers something for everyone, from Seared Jumbo Scallops and Gulf Shrimp with chipotle pineapple glaze, sticky rice, and sautéed peppers, to Margherita Pizza with olive oil, sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, fresh tomato, and basil.
Pick up breakfast, lunch, coffee, a smoothie, or hit up the juice bar at Camille’s Beach Bar & Coffee Shop, a pet friendly sidewalk café with outdoor seating located downstairs from Camille’s Restaurant. Stay tuned throughout fall as the Beach Café hosts local musicians playing some jazzy numbers during lunch on the weekends.
Camille’s at Crystal Beach is part of family of restaurants that includes Harbor Docks in Destin, Dharma Blue in Pensacola, Red Bay Grocery in Red Bay , Chucks Fish in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and Five Bar in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Athens, Gainesville, and Knoxville.
Manager Chris Knight came from Camille’s sister restaurant Dharma Blue, another eclectic favorite, and opened Camille’s in 2004. Four years later, Chef Blake VanZant came from Dharma Blue to fill in for a night and never left.
Much of the summer staff consists of college kids that return year after year, and they’re smart, attentive, friendly, and capable. Chris’s secret to managing a successful team is simple. “We try to take care of everybody and show respect. Everybody works collectively.” Chris added, “It’s all about the customers. If they’re happy, we’re happy.”
Camille’s at Crystal beach is located at 2931 Scenic Hwy 98 in Destin. Restaurant hours are Mon – Sun from 5pm to 10pm. Camille’s Beach Bar & Coffee Shop is open Mon – Sun from 7a.m. to 10 p.m. Call (850) 337-8860 or visit www.camillesatcrystalbeach.com for more information.